Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Cognitive Gap Of Why

So a non-trivial number of people whom I respect and enjoy have made the very same mistake about a bunch of inter-related application usage patterns specifically about social media tools and the infrastructures therein.

That's a complicated starting sentence, so let me give a specific example (which is just the latest in a long line of argumentation all of a theme): the excellent CGP Grey made an argument about Youtube and why it can't be better at serving up videos and be more like Netflix when presenting content. It's an excellent point, to be fair: Youtube is fantastically bad at serving up content that I want in the way that I want it when I'm trying to watch stuff, and I'm not even a publisher; CGP Grey's problems are at least twice the difficulty level from mine.

The problem is, of course, that the problem reverts to a very old axiom that I've used since I heard it the first time: nearly every question that starts with "why" can be answered with "money".

Netflix and Youtube have two fundamentally different business models. For Netflix, their customers and their users are the same people: the audience for Netflix is the people that gave them money, and so they are motivated to deliver a good user experience because not doing so will cost them money. Their Ops focus is stability, reliability, deliverability, and service. Their UX focus is about getting photons into eyeballs as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Their goal as a company is to satisfy the viewer.

For Youtube, though, the users and the customers are two entirely different groups. Youtube doesn't make any money from the person who comes to look at the videos they host; in point of fact, they arguably cost money for Youtube. In fact, content-uploaders aren't the customers, either, which is hilarious because Youtube wouldn't exist without the people who upload stuff. No, the customers for Youtube are the advertisers and aggregators that want the data about the users. That's what Youtube is selling, even over and above the ads on top of the content itself; they're selling data about what users are watching.

The same is true of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. The people who use those sites are not the people that the sites care about, at the end of the day. It's why Facebook won't set their algorithms to display status updates in explicit chronological order. It's why Twitter is changing the methodology of the timeline. It's why Google Plus doesn't disable plus-one sharing, even though nearly everyone who uses G+ hates it. The people that use the sites are not the audience. They're not the customers. The customers are the people who pay Facebook, Twitter, and Google for data about the users.

If a service isn't charging you for using it, then you are the service model.

The answer to nearly every "why" is almost always "money".